Turning the Tide

with Joke Hermsen

Sunday, April 14, 2019 (Lecture in English)

Can we say we are heading into ‘dark times’? Joke Hermsen asks the audience. Rosa Luxemburg taught us that especially in ‘dark times’ we need critical thinking, independent judgment and freedom of speech.

And Hannah Arendt says: the world can only be human when she is the subject of our discussions and dialogues. The world becomes dark when people don’t feel shared responsibility, only act for themselves, and no longer care for solidarity. When people turn their backs to politics there is always the danger of ‘worldnessless’ (Dutch: ‘wereldloosheid’ / German: weltlösigkeit). What we need is engagement with the world. For Rosa Luxemburg and Hannah Arendt this is the most important for us humans.

For many people Rosa Luxemburg is a myth. She is a hero or icon of the revolution, for some she is the woman who didn’t understand Marx and Lenin (because she was a free spirit) and for others she is that red, bloodthirsty, dangerous revolutionary. She was killed in January 1919 and some people are wondering if history would have been different if Rosa wasn’t killed.

For both Rosa Luxemburg and Hannah Arendt the most import thing in life is hope! And hope is what we need in these days of growing poverty, inequality, racism, climate warming and a series of budget cuts for public affairs like education, healthcare, public transport and housing. Nowadays we have to deal with a ‘Total Victory of Capitalism’.

Joke Hermsen remarks that we live in two worlds and that it is important to acknowledge them to understand the dangers that threaten our planet and our life at this moment. The first world is the natural world in which we live every day: working, living, eating and reproducing. The second world is the cultural and political world. In this world we speak with each other about life, the developments, art, engagement et cetera. Every human being has two voices, two qualities of life. First the whatness; your participation in the first world; what you are and not who you are. Second the whoness; being a person in de second world, understanding, sharing ideas and respecting each other. Here, in the second world, lay the possibilities of something new. In this area we see people with ‘amor mundi’, love for the world, hopefulness, taking part in plurality. This is where people are creative, alert and constantly in a deep and open dialogue with each other.

After questions from the audience about the recent elections in the Netherlands, which were won by Forum voor Democratie, Hermsen says that voting is too small an action to be part of a dialogue. Okay, it’s a step in the good direction, but it is not enough she says. There has to be more responsibility, we have to speak about the world and we have to think together about the world. She then calls for meetings of dialogue in Zaal 3, like this on a Sunday afternoon.

Big changes always start with a growing resistance of the ordinary people, as we now see with the ‘French yellow blouses’ with participation of all kinds of people. Hermsen ends her lecture by saying: “Hopefully we’ll learn from history -history is a good teacher, but has had many bad pupils- and use the insights of Rosa Luxemburg and Hannah Arendt by the transition to a sustainable, human and a community that shows solidarity.”

About the author
Luc Meuwese, volunteer at Philosophy in The Hague and board member Humanistisch Verbond The Hague – Haaglanden.